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As I was watching last week’s SAP press conference on the new BusinessObjects Analytic Applications, I kept trying to figure out what the story behind the announcement was – what fundamental message was SAP promoting in the event. There was the underlying message that SAP was innovative (as suggested by the obligatory iPad demonstration) – this message seems to be pervasive in most recent PR events (yes, we get the message – SAP is cool again and is no longer a dullard) but I wasn’t going to be distracted by it.  There was also a stress on the importance of customer co-innovation but SAP has successfully been practicing co-innovation with customers and partners for a while (For example, take a look at the mature process that is involved with Enterprise http://esc.sap.comServices http://esc.sap.comCommunity (ES Community)).

I wanted to understand this new BusinessObjects technology without being diverted by the other brand-related messaging / marketing.   

Not being a BI expert, I returned to my roots as a NetWeaver expert to deal with a strange feeling of a déjà-vu – I thought I had seen something similar somewhere before. As I followed the tweet stream during the press conference, I found my answer – xApps.  Some were comparing the new applications with the SAP offering from the seven years ago.  Vital View: SAP Announcement of Analytics Solutions suggested that “The new tools were nothing new – just a rehash of old technology”. 

I was curious – “were these new applications really nothing new?” So, I decided to do a little digging and compare the two offerings.  I was hoping that the comparison would allow me to discover the “story” that I was seeking.  

xApps – Background Information

xApps were released by SAP in early 2003 and were based on Visual Composer and BI data running on top of the SAP NetWeaver stack. They were described in similar terms as the new BusinessObject-based solutions:

SAP xApps – Extending Business Value and Software Investments

Developed on the SAP NetWeaver platform by SAP and a growing number of partners, SAP xApps fill gaps in business processes quickly and flexibly, helping companies gain fast return on investment while leveraging their current IT assets. Allowing quick reconfiguration to accommodate new business structures, processes and customer and partner requirements, these composite applications are helping companies across diverse industries respond quickly and profitably to business change across specialized processes such as new product development, compliance with global trade regulations and shop-floor to top-floor manufacturing integration  [SOURCE]

“Sounds familiar” I thought.

The presence of a book written about xApp Analytics with a foreword from then CEO Henning Kagermann demonstrated its relative importance.

A quick glance at the respective UIs also showed similarities

Figure 1: xApp UI

 

Figure 2: BusinessObject Analytic Application UI

“Yikes”, I thought – “the UIs do look similar”. OK – the second one is snazzier (you do see the Xcelsius influence) but the giant leap in user comfort really wasn’t evident.

Even more telling was the fact that the xApp UI displayed above (See Figure 1) was from a xApp called Global Inventory View for mySCM which looked similar to the iPad demo presented by SAP Co-CEO Bill McDermott.  OK – obviously, the iPad UI was a much cooler than the Visual Composer-based UI but the fundamental content (Metrics, KPI, etc) sounded familiar.

The description of the xApp in question also sounded familiar:

The analytic composite application for global inventory view enables the user to review the current inventory status within the supply chain. Inventory is shown as total quantities, as total monetary value, and in terms of coverage range (days of supply).

So, I decided that I had to work in a more structured manner if I wanted to understand how the two offerings differed.  

Comparison of xApps and BusinessObjects Analytic Applications

I decided to create a table (see below) that would enable me to really compare the two solutions,

Category

xApp Analytics

BusinessObjects Analytic Applications

Comment

Focus

The SAP xApps family of composite applications enables continuous business innovation – and provides the flexibility necessary to respond quickly and profitably to business change. SAP xApps composite applications extend the value of your core business investments and maximize the return on your strategic assets: employees, knowledge, products, business relationships, and IT. [SOURCE]

” xApps are commonly targeted at specific industries or are geared towards vertical applications common across a range of industries. ” [SOURCE]

 …a family of solutions tailored to address today’s challenges in specific industries and lines of business. Co-created with customers and designed to work in any environment, the applications facilitate better business decision-making by knowledge workers, providing the insight and best practices required to better understand risk, uncover opportunities and make the right decisions to optimize business [Emphasis is mine] [SOURCE]

Sounds similar.

Time period

2002-2007

2010

 

Underlying Technology

Visual Composer + BI + SAP NetWeaver.

 

Focus is on use of the SOA architecture.

BusinessObjects Technology + BI + In-Memory Data storage

 

Focus is a new data-centric architecture including the use of a new set of tools including a semantic layer.  

 

UI

Web-based / Flash

Web-based  + Flash  (Xcelsius)

 

Content

  • Executive
  • Finance
  • HR
  • Legal
  • Technology
  • Procurement
  • Manufacturing
  • Logistics
  • Marketing
  • Retail
  • Banking
  • Healthcare
  • Telecommunications
  • Defense and Security
  • Public Sector
  • Trade Promotion 

This is one of the main differences between the two offerings. The new applications are focused on industries while the older offering is focused on ERP core functionality.

Another interesting difference is the focus on niche or regional offerings as evident in new BusinessObjects products.

Content Depth

Usually one screen (Visual-Composer based)

Multiple screens with various industry specific KPIs, data streams, etc,

The depth of the new offering is similar to the old SAP NetWeaver Portal Business Packages  where multiple iViews reflecting a variety of functions / back-end transactions are available

Ecosystem involvement

Partners created a number of xApps that were required to be certified by SAP

“SAP partner ecosystem is poised to drive additional co-innovation with customers and further build out deployments for individual customers’ unique needs. SAP systems integrator partners will provide focused regional or business domain expertise.”

I think the initial focus in the new offering will be more on the customization of existing Analytic Applications rather than the creation of new Analytic Applications by partners.

Customer

involvement

Unknown

It was emphasized in the press release and in the press conference that customers were very much involved in the definition of the applications.

 

Methodology

There was a xApp Methodology which was based on the Composite Application methodology

There is a methodology that is focused on BI data rather than SOA focus.  This is still being defined and has yet to be released.

Shows the difference in the respective offerings origins. One is focused on SOA reflecting its origin in SAP NetWeaver (including the Composition Environment). The other is focused more on BI which reflects it Business Objects heritage.

Extendibility

The Visual Composer models were / are available on the Service Marketplace meaning that customers / partners could customize the solutions.

There will be a SDK that is available in the future (2011?) to customize Analytic Applications.

 

 

The most important differences

For me, the critical differences between the two solutions are:

  • Content focus: The strong industry-focus in the new applications compared to the greater focus on ERP-core in the older applications.  I’ll be curious to see whether this new (?) focus on industry solutions has an impact on other areas (for example. SAP’s LoB OnDemand  offerings)
  • Technological foundation: SAP NetWeaver vs. BusinessObjects. The use of in-memory technology is another important advantage in the new environment which should lead to improved processing speeds for larger data sets.  
  • Content Depth: The new solutions have multiple screens / more complex KPIs than that provided by xApps.  It is interesting that the KPIs for these new applications were based on co-innovation with customers – I recall that there was an effort in the BPX wiki to define ERP-Core KPIs . Thus, you have a difference between KPIs that are community-based (SDN) vs. KPIs that are customer/partner-based (Collaboration Workspace)
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6 Comments

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  1. Tammy Powlas
    Having developed dashboards with Visual Composer, I heard a lot of similarities as well only you articulated it much better.

    One thing I would add is that a tool like XCelsius could be used by the business user; while SAP in the past has touted that Visual Composer could be used by the business process analyst, in my real-life experience, this has not been the case – it was always the Developers developing in Visual Composer.

    Great blog.

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    1. Richard Hirsch Post author
      Thanks for the comment.

      I’m also curious what sort of user-configuration / personalization options for those business users are possible in the new applications.

      D.

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    2. John Skrabak
      Well, yes, very basic charts can be created by a someone with limited training, after all, Xcelsius’ roots are as a presentation tool.  But you start down the path of connecting to databases, passing commands between swfs, adding RANK and LOOKUP functions, and before you know, Xcelisus is no longer a casual tool for someone that dabbles.

      That doesn’t even consider the training/understanding one really needs in visualization to create good dashboards.

      If it was so easy to create complex dashboards, SAP Xcelsius consultants wouldn’t be being billed out at over $250/hr. 

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  2. Witalij Rudnicki
    Hi Richard. It is interesting we both had this déjà vu experience although with regards to different SAP areas: http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/weblogs?blog=/pub/wlg/20979. Here is something I did not put into my blog, although had in mind. Now you triggered this 🙂
    I actually did have in mind xApps and Visual Composer when I asked my question during the live announcement, but did not get the answer. One of the biggest differences between xApps and BO Analytic Solutions is that xApps supposed to be operations analytics with loop-back into the business process while BO AS is just an Analytics application is support of the decission process. The only action I saw presented was sending an e-mail from the App, while with xApps and VC you could have an action on back-end system built into the screen.
    Btw, I would not mix inMemory into the picture of these new BO Analytics Applications right now. Part of the announcement was that these Apps are back-end agnostic (can be linked to OLTP or Data Warehouse or Data Federator) and their data model is virtual, i.e. physical store does not come out-of-the-box. In that sense VC was back-end agnostic too (working with any SOA-enabled system), but xApps were based on specific Enterprise Services.
    That’s my understanding.
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    1. Witalij Rudnicki
      … I forgot to mention that should be in the comparison – presented BO AS are not all only BI applications, but some of them are Planning (BPC-based, I suppose). I do not recall VC supporting Planning Engine from BW.
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    2. Richard Hirsch Post author
      You’re right – the ability of xApps to be embedded in processes is based on their origin in the SAP NetWeaver environment where the process orientation is a tighter fit.

      D. 

      (0) 

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